Hotels’ Privacy Rights Backed by Appeals Court

by Joe Palazzolo, The Wall Street Journal  |  published on January 10, 2014

Hotel Sign
A Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to turn over guest records to police without a warrant violates the Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled.

The judges on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who split 7-4, found hotels have an interest in keeping guest records private, even if the guests themselves have no such privacy rights because they willingly give their information to a third party.

“The business records covered by [the ordinance] are the hotel’s private property,” wrote Judge Paul Watford for the majority in a ruling released Tuesday. “By virtue of those property-based interests, the hotel has the right to exclude others from prying into the contents of its records.”

A hotel’s property and privacy interests “are more than sufficient” to trigger protection by the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, he added.

The 2006 ordinance required hotels to collect and maintain guest information such as name and address, the number of people in the guest’s party, vehicle information, arrival and checkout dates, room number, and method of payment. Hotel operators who refused could face as many as six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.

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